New Delhi: When the Delhi government appointed 21 of its legislators as parliamentary secretaries to help with official work in March 2015, 29-year-old Prashant Patel didn’t feel the decision was quite right. In June, he wrote to the President’s office, questioning its legality.

The Delhi-based advocate’s year-long battle to reverse what he felt was a constitutional breach came to an end when President Pranab Mukherjee rejected a law framed by Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government to prevent their disqualification as members of legislative assembly (MLA). The bill, passed by the Delhi legislative assembly after appointing the parliamentary secretaries, sought to exempt these legislators with retrospective effect from a rule that bars them from holding positions which fetched a remuneration. The net effect: These legislators face the threat of disqualification, triggering elections in 21 constituencies in Delhi.

“I am very happy that my struggle has paid off. When the appointments were made in March, I felt that something was not right. I read up on the issue and also checked its constitutional validity. After much research, I found the move was unconstitutional and filed a petition with the Presidents’ secretariat," Patel said.

He adds that it didn’t lead to positive results.

“Initially, it was pending in the office in the first few months. I had to file multiple RTIs (right to information petitions), letters to the President’s secretariat. I didn’t think the matter will become this big. I am happy that the time I have spent on this has paid off," he said.

The President’s rejection of the amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997 on 14 June also revived the controversy over appointing parliamentary secretaries.

Initially, the Delhi government had said that the MLAs were being appointed to assist in governance work, but would not be given any remuneration in return.

“When I saw reports of office of profit, I read up on similar cases. This is when I found the cases of Sonia Gandhi, Jaya Bachchan and recently the two ministers from Uttar Pradesh," said Patel, who mainly practises family and criminal cases. He has also presented a 100-page report on these appointments to the Election Commission and the President.

The lawyer who belongs to Uttar Pradesh completed his law studies from Chaudhary Charan Singh University in Greater Noida. He is now practising law for two years.

Patel, who also holds an MBA degree, says, “I am a lawyer by choice and not by chance."

On the functioning of the Delhi government, he says, “The governments’ functioning is a political issue and I would not like to comment on that. The only reason I filed an appeal is because I saw an unconstitutional attempt being made."

The Election Commission is now probing the matter and a final decision on the disqualification of the MLAs for holding office of profit positions lies with the President. Earlier this year, the Commission asked the MLAs to explain why their appointment as parliamentary secretaries does not fall under office of profit and why their legislative assembly membership should not be cancelled. In response, the MLAs sought a hearing.

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